Posted by: James Wapotich | April 6, 2012

Trail Quest: Audubon Bird Walk

There are number of great resources for learning about our local birds, not the least of which is Karen Bridgers’ column Bird Watch which appears every Wednesday in the Life section of the Santa Barbara News-Press. And if you’re wanting to get out on the trails and open spaces and see some of our local birds you may want to join one of the Bird Walks hosted by the Santa Barbara Chapter of the National Audubon Society.

The Santa Barbara Audubon Society’s Bird Walks take place on the second and fourth Fridays of the month from 8:30 to 10:30AM and they are a great way to get out there and start learning about the local birds. The Bird Walks are free and all skill levels are welcome.

Audubon Bird Walk Elings Park Santa Barbara Hike

Watching a kite at Elings Park

The Bird Walks are lead by Jack Sanford and make great use of the many open spaces and trails available to us here locally, including Lake Los Carneros, Devereux Slough, the Lagoon at UCSB and the Carpinteria Salt Marsh.

In fact in asking Mr. Sanford what are the qualifications of a good location for bird watching he shared, “One of the things that makes for a good birding site is water or wetlands, and not necessarily because you’ll see rare or unusual birds, but because you’ll see more species. Open fields are also good because there’s seeds and insects that attract the birds, but water has to be close by.”

On the two Bird Walks that I participated in we visited the area around the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Elings Parks, and on both trips I was surprised at just how many different birds we saw in a relatively small area.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird seen at Eling’s Park

The pace of the Bird Walks are relaxed, and there is usually a group of 15-20 people. And while one would think that going with a group would make seeing birds harder, it turns out the opposite is true, at least when going out with a group of birders. Having more eyes actually makes it easier to spot birds and the collective experience of the group lends itself well to identifying the birds, making for a satisfying trip of not only getting to see birds, but learning their names as well.

The group typically meets at the trailhead where Mr. Sanford hands out name tags to every one. Many of the participants are regulars and carry with them binoculars and guide books, and their skill level ranges from beginners just getting started to folks who have been birding for 25 years. The birds walks are also great opportunity to get out see the local area.

Several of the birders I spoke with were already active in their local Audubon Chapter and joined the Santa Barbara Chapter when they moved here to continue their connection to birding. And one couple I met was actually from Los Angeles and had found out about the Bird Walk while searching on the internet for things to do in Santa Barbara and decided to start their vacation earlier so they could join the morning Bird Walk.

Morning Dove Audubon Bird Walk

Morning Dove seen at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Mr. Sanford’s own interest in birding started about 10 years ago while on a trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. “The ranger was going to lead a nature walk and so I decided to join it because I like to hike. And I could not believe all the things he pointed out as we were walking along this trail. I was thinking I’ve hiked this trail and walked around this area and never saw any of these things. I was really impressed”, Mr. Sanford said. When Mr. Sanford returned to Santa Barbara he saw in the paper that the local Audubon chapter offered free Bird Walks and decided to join them to start learning more about birds and soon became a regular participant.

The Bird Walks at the time were lead by Paul Keller, and when Mr. Keller moved to Lompoc, the president of the Santa Barbara Audubon Society asked Mr. Sanford if he would be willing to take over leading the hikes and Mr. Sanford has been leading them ever since. A retired Physical Education teacher, Mr. Sanford modestly bills himself as “not a bird expert, but getting better”

Northern Mocking Bird Eling's Park

Northern Mocking Bird seen at Eling’s Park

The Santa Barbara Audubon Society also hosts once a month field trips which are often led by local bird experts and can include visits to sites rarely seen by the public, such as Rancho Las Cruces in the Santa Ynez Valley and Rancho Santa Barbara near Cachuma Lake.

For a listing of the upcoming Bird Walks, field trips and monthly lectures sponsored by the Santa Barbara Audubon Society’s go to

Audubon Bird Walk Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Bird Walk at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

If you’re curious what are all the different birds that one can see in our local area the Santa Barbara Audubon Society also publishes a checklist of birds for Santa Barbra County, which includes information about how common or rare a bird is to see and what’s the best season to look for a particular bird. The checklist is available at Chaucer’s Bookstore.

Santa Barbara County has over 480 bird species, including several found nowhere else in the world such as the Yellow-billed Magpie which is found only in California and the Santa Cruz Island Scrub Jay which is found only on Santa Cruz Island. Given the variety of birds and all the great trails and open space available to us here locally, it’s easy to see how one can get hooked on birding.

This article originally appeared in section A of the April 6th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


  1. i am sorry to have missed the slide show tonight. I am a hiking addict. It is the second best thing (next to my trips to Africa) for me to get my wilderness fix.

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